Monday, October 31, 2011

It's Halloween

a poem by Jack Prelutsky

It's Halloween! It's Halloween!
The moon is full and bright
And we shall see what can't be seen
On any other night:

Skeletons and ghosts and ghouls,
Grinning goblins fighting duels,
Werewolves rising from their tombs,
Witches on their magic brooms.

In masks and gowns
we haunt the street
And knock on doors
for trick or treat.

Tonight we are
the king and queen,
For oh tonight
it's Halloween!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

thinking about initiative

I use d6 group initiative.  One player rolls a d6 and I roll a d6.  If they meet or beat the bad guy's roll then the party members all act first.  The actual numbers rolled don't matter.  "Bad guys 3, Players 6"  has the exact same mechanical effect as "Bad guys 2, Players 3".  What if that wasn't the case?  What if the number rolled indicated how much you could get done before the end of the round?  Below is a stab at the idea.  I don't usually like new mechanics that require you to consult a new chart all the time, so I'm not sure I'd use it as a hard and fast rule.  But I think I will start considering the number on the inish die as a means of gauging how much the PCs can achieve in a round.

Players' Roll
Cast 1st level spells safely
Wielders of two-handed weapons may not attack this round.
Only weapons in hand may be used to attack.
Scrolls/potions/wands/oil may only be used if in hand and ready for use.
Missile fire into melees targets randomly. 

Cast 1st and 2nd level spells safely
Wielders of two-handed weapons may only make unarmed attacks, weapon out of position.
Scrolls/potions/wands/oil may only be used if in hand and ready for use.
Swords and daggers may be drawn and used immediately. 

Cast 1st-3rd level spells safely
Scrolls/potions/wands/oil may only be used if in hand and ready for use.
Swords and daggers may be drawn and used immediately. 

Cast 1st-4th level spells safely
Swords and daggers may be drawn and used immediately.
Fighter types who drop their foe may make an extra attack. 

Cast 1st-5th level spells safely
Any melee weapon may be drawn and used immediately.
Anyone who drops their foe may make an extra attack.
Missile fire may fire at small targets (a sword hand, the wizard's magic eyeball, etc)
Hand held weapons may be thrown and a new weapon drawn for use next round. 

Cast any spell safely
Missile fire may fire at small targets (a sword hand, the wizard's magic eyeball, etc)
Crossbow users may fire and immediately reload (but not fire at small targets)
Any melee weapon may be drawn and used immediately.
Hand held weapons may be thrown and a new weapon drawn for use next round.
Anyone holding a dagger may make two melee attacks.
Anyone with a shield may make an extra shield bash attack.
Anyone who drops their foe may make an extra attack.

Monsters' Roll (humanlike foes use the above chart) 
Claw/Claw/Bite Types: one claw only
Tentacled Horrors: one tentacle attack only
Monsters that Swallow Hole: bite but no swallow possible
Breath Weapon: no breath weapon allowed
Gaze Attack: no gaze allowed
General: Only front line party members can be meleed

Claw/Claw/Bite Types: both claws
Tentacled Horrors: d6 tentacle attacks
Monsters that Swallow Hole: as normal
Breath Weapon: small puff targets 1 foe for half damage, does not count as a usage per day
Gaze Attack: gaze attack 1 target
General: Only front line party members can be meleed 

Claw/Claw/Bite Types: both claws
Tentacled Horrors: d6 tentacle attacks
Monsters that Swallow Hole: as normal
Breath Weapon: full breath weapon
Gaze Attack: gaze attack 1 target
General: Only front line party members can be meleed 

Claw/Claw/Bite Types: full attacks
Tentacled Horrors: d6 tentacle attacks
Monsters that Swallow Hole: as normal
Breath Weapon: full breath weapon
Gaze Attack: gaze attacks d6 party members
General: Party members behind front line can be targeted in melee, but front line makes rear attacks 

Claw/Claw/Bite Types: full attacks
Tentacled Horrors: d6 tentacle attacks
Monsters that Swallow Hole: as normal
Breath Weapon: full breath weapon
Gaze Attack: gaze attacks d6 party members
General: Party members behind front line can be targeted in melee, but front line makes rear attacks

Claw/Claw/Bite Types: full attacks plus some bonus (grab, tailslap, headbutt, etc)
Tentacled Horrors: all tentacles attack
Monsters that Swallow Hole: bit/swallow up to d4 adjacent targets
Breath Weapon: full breath weapon
Gaze Attack: gaze attacks all possible targets
General: Party members behind front line can be targeted in melee

Friday, October 28, 2011

a Caves of Myrddin public service announcement


Blixa the Adventurer offers a 5,000gp reward for the heads of Lenny and Squiggy, wandering vampires of the Dungeons of Dundagel.  These brutes are accused of murdering Blixa's war-poodle Gleichman, beloved NPC visitor to no less than four campaign worlds.  The above likeness comes from the hand of Hugo the Bastard, one of the eye witnesses to this foul act of canicide.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Wizardly Wednesday

Don Herbert, a.k.a. Mr. Wizard, was the first guy to host a kid's TV show all about science.  He was basically the Bill Nye the Science Guy of the black and white era.  He also had a revival on Nickelodeon that some of you might remember.

I think I recall reading a few years back that a toy company wanted to release a retro Mr. Wizard Chemistry Set based upon the ones sold back in the 60's, but it turned out that most of the contents of the original were no longer legal to sell to the general public.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Crabaugh's critique of classes

Dragon #109 (May 1986) contains one of my top 10 all-time favorite articles from that venerable magazine.  "Customized Classes" by Paul Montgomery Crabaugh.  I've sung the praises of Crabaugh before.  Dude wrote only a handful of published articles but each were brief and focused, with a strong grasp of the mechanics he was deploying.

Which is one of the reasons why "Customized Classes" is so interesting.  In just five pages Crabaugh gave us a system for making our own BX classes, demonstrated how it worked by redoing all seven canonical classes, and supplied us with five new classes to show how his system is meant to be used.  Kick ass.

But one thing has bothered me about this article for 25 years now: Crabaugh's numbers for the seven BX classes don't add up to the totals in the rulebook.  Dig these numbers for achieving 2nd level.

Fighter: rulebook 2,000xp; Crabaugh 1,760xp
Magic-User: rulebook 2,500xp; Crabaugh 1,840xp
Cleric: rulebook 1,500xp; Crabaugh 2,160xp
Thief: rulebook 1,200xp; Crabaugh 1,460xp
Dwarf: rulebook 2,200xp; Crabaugh 1,840xp
Halfling: rulebook 2,200xp; Crabaugh 1,560xp
Elf: rulebook 4,000xp; Crabaugh 2,780xp

For a long time I thought that the dude just did his level best to hit the numbers in the rulebook but only came close.  Two things have turned me around on this reading in the past four or five years.  First of all, every other Crabaugh article I've encountered (not that there are many) indicates that the dude was on the ball with the rules, suggesting to me that he didn't just eyeball his numbers and hope for the best.  Secondly, Crabaugh's version of the cleric gets a spell at first level.  You don't write a BX article and give 1st level clerics a spell unless you are critiquing the rules as written.  (I guess you could do that if you're a cheap hack and not really paying attention to the edition you're writing for, but those kind of guys generally wrote AD&D articles during this period.)

So what do Crabaugh's numbers tell us about his opinions of the various classes, at least with regards to their first level version?  Here's what I think he's saying:
  • The vast 500 point difference between fighters and MUs is not justified.
  • Thieves advance too fast, but they are still wimpy enough that they should advance faster than the other human classes.
  • Halflings are not nearly as useful as dwarves or fighters.  I love halflings but I think I agree.
  • Elves are clearly the most potent class in the game, but they aren't worth nearly as many XP as the BX rules suggest.
  • IF you give the cleric a spell at first level it is the most potent human class and not that much less powerful than an elf.
 What does everyone think about Crabaugh's numbers?  I think a lot of players will agree that the MU has a big hill to climb.  Should the elf XP requirements be reconsidered as well?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

ditchin' the minis

Gameblog reader Brandon writes in with a question:
I wonder if you could perhaps offer some advice ... about dealing with combat without minis and squared-off maps. For someone who's been "in the game", if only barely, for as long as I have, I've GMed very little and I hate managing exacting maps, measures, and minis, but I'm just not confident enough to generalize that stuff and feel like I'm being "fair" to the players. So I always feel like my options are jumping out of a plane without a parachute or spend so much time on mediocre combat maps that I've got no energy for making up FUN stuff for the players to do.
This is an interesting topic to me, as I play quite a few games that have rules for tactical displays yet I don't use one most of the time.  And lately I've been musing over giving 3e a second try, but I'm not sure I want to break out the battlemats and figures to do so.  Here are my thoughts, perhaps others will chime in.

Advise players that you don't use a tactical display.

Communication with players is always important, especially regarding your house rules.  In games with point builds or feat-picking some folks will get sore if they think they lacked crucial info about how you run your game. That being said, don't actively discourage them from buying or picking anything but the most tactically intensive options, because...

Your players' choices tell you what is important to them, respect that.

Let's say that one of your players in a new 3.x game takes Combat Reflexes, a feat designed to give you extra Attacks of Opportunity, despite knowing that you don't use a combat grid. You need to make sure that there are opportunities for this PC to use that feat. A mass of suicide bomber kobolds try bum rush past the front line to blow up the mages?  A great time to use some Combat Reflexes to stop those little mofos.  In general, you should lean towards allowing these tricks rather than forbidding them.  If a player asks "Can I take a 5 foot step and full attack?" your default answer should be yes.  Sometimes you'll have a perfectly good reason why they can't use their tactical advantages, but I feel like you should give the PCs the benefit of the doubt when the situation is ambiguous.  Or at least allow a die roll.  (E.g. "Roll d10.  That's how far you are from the foe in feet.") After all, you can always add a few more bad guys to the adventure to offset this advantage.

Develop some rules of thumb for area affect attacks

In my games flaming oil will hit d4 foes in most situations.  Last session one of the werewolves was smack dab in the midst of the party (it tore through the door-opener and leaped into the room) while its two were-buddies followed in more slowly.  The next round I ruled that no single Molotov could hit all three without endangering the party, so the oil-lobber targeted just the other two.  On the other hand, one well-placed flask has ignited an entire pack of giant rats.

Using the principle outlined above, I generally assume that fireball or lightning bolt is going to be able to target a crapload of foes.  I actually map out these particular attacks on my dungeon maps (I use the 33 10' cubes rule for fireballs, which is fun on a bun), but you can just as easily make up things like "This is a big room, but there are a LOT of ghouls in here.  Roll 1d6 for the number of ghouls not caught in the blast."  Or you can just pencil in your rulebook "Fireballs affect 2d6+6 targets."

Don't sweat it if things get crazy

Let go of the idea that your brain has to perfectly emulate the rules as written for the tactical display.  Once you give up on that impossibility you can start to have fun doing this.  Instead of asking yourself "How should the tactical rules apply here?" consider some alternative questions like "What makes most sense in this situation?" or "What would be the funnest or stupidest thing to happen?"  And do your best not to look up fiddly little rules in play.  A snap decision like "You have a 4 in 6 chance of pushing the orc jester into the scorpion pit" trumps even 30 seconds spent looking up the pushing rules.

Enforcing the written rules is a small part of being a good DM.  In my experience the players will respect that you want to keep the game moving as long as they are convinced you are not an adversarial DM.  I can smile while giving my players all sorts of bad news.  And they don't blink when I run roughshod over their notions of how D&D works.  How can I get away with this?  Because they trust that I'm there to have a good time with them, not against them.  Show that you will call things done the middle, but will give them every chance when you're in a grey area.  Let them use and abuse the tricks on their character sheets and the crazy plans they come up with.  Then when you kill them they'll understand that it wasn't anything personal.

Friday, October 21, 2011

quick item: my FLGS

Loquacious, one of the owners of Armored Gopher Games, posted some pictures of the place.

Caves of Myrddin update

Seven went in to the dungeons below Dundagel today: three warriors (Taurus Hell's-Heart, Hugo the Bastard and Jan of Flanders), two mages (Òengus the Repellant and Geoffrey of Puddingdale), a halfling (Rando, not the one who runs around in a loincloth) and a handyman named William. Only Rando, Taurus, Hugo and Òengus returned alive. Three of them proceed to get drunk as skunks to help them forget the horrors they saw. Here's what you can put together from their drunken rants and sobbings:
  • Somewhere under the East Tower (the gatehouse to the castle) they found an archway decorated with a dragon motif that led to a previously unexplored dungeon level.
  • They fought two separate groups of monsters wielding wicked axes. Descriptions of them are rather jumbled. Were they humans? Humanoid? Mutants? Undead? Their leader wore a kickass Erol Otus style batwinged helmet, which Hugo the Bastard now claims as his own, having slain this massive foe in single combat.
  • Jan and William were torn to pieces by werewolves. Geoffrey also fell to a werewolf, with his face bitten off. To try to prevent the dead from returning as monsters their corpses were beheaded. Not that there was much left of Jan or William to decapitate.
  • A gruesome meat locker containing human corpses worried the party that Joe Mama might lurk nearby.
  • Rando bravely attempted to negotiate a tiny tunnel that only a halfling could enter.  Well, not that bravely, actually.  At the first evidence of monsters (a giant rat turd) he got the hell out of there.
Back at the abbey one of the fighters (I forget which) blew his save against poison while carousing and lost all of his money by investing in a merchant caravan that doesn't exist.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Caves of Myrddin: cannibalism narrowly avoided

I had a large group last night with 6 PCs (two elves, a dwarf, a cleric, a fighter and a thief) and 4 miscellaneous hangers-on (a cook, a halfling, a hopeless loser and some guy with a crossbow).  The party made several ventures into the Wet Cave, cleverly avoiding drowning by paying strict attention to the tides.  I thought I was going to be able to kill them all when they started acting like "clearing the level" was their primary goal.  There's nothing wrong with wanting to kill all the monsters.  But unless you need to secure your flanks or maintain an open path of retreat, there's no real upside to attacking dangerous critters that don't have any treasure.  "Let's kill these guys just because they're there" is damn fool way to die in the dungeon.

Maybe not quite this big.

But the real highlight of the night was the capture of Blue Nellie.  Not everyone playing knows about Blue Nellie, but at least a few of the Friday 4am PCs have encountered this large (4' long or so) blue lobster.  About mid-morning most days it scuttles its way into the wet cave, exiting around sundown.  A few people even managed to figure out that Blue Nellie was intelligent and possibly cursed.  Until last night Celumir the Bald, an elf in the Friday morning PC pool, probably knew more about Blue Nellie than anyone, researching the legend, interviewing local fishermen, etc.  He already knew what last night's bunch didn't figure out until they were well on there way towards planning a big lobster boil at the abbey guesthouse.

Centuries ago the evil wizard Myrddin used the caves that now bear his name to try to sneak an army of monsters into the catacombs below Castle Dundagel, in hopes of catching the forces of good Queen Morgana unawares.  A local sea elf named Cerellia tried to swim up the wet cave to find a way to warn the queen, but she was captured by the bad guys.  To punish her, Myrddin cast polymorph other and geas upon her, dooming her to centuries of attempting to finish her mission while in the form of a giant blue lobster.  What Myrddin knew and Cerellia didn't is that the Wet Cave has no easy connection to the rest of the Dundagel complex.  The PCs found her in the dungeon trying to dig a tunnel through the stone wall with her lobster claws.

After figuring out that Blue Nellie was cursed in some way, it took the Abbot throwing remove curse teaming up with the local Witch, who cast dispel magic.  Here's the true form of Blue Nellie/Cerellia the Sea Elf.

Fiendish bastard that I am, I was really hoping that last night's group didn't figure this out and the lobster stew went ahead as planned.  It would have been fun to describe a bald elf coming into the feast, figuring out what happend, puking his guts out and running away in sheer horror.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

D&D sans chargen

Today -C over at Hack & Slash talks about the way building characters discourages newbies, especially in games that lock you into long-term decisions during chargen.  To avoid decision tree gridlock I prefer rolling characters.  Well, that's one of the reasons at least.  Standard D&D chargen in most editions is actually a hybrid of the two concepts, since you randomly generate your six stats, hit points and starting gold but you select race, class, alignment and equipment.  I've had some success streamiling chargen by using random starting equipment charts.  I'd play a random class, race and alignment but I don't think everyone else feels that way.

Ditching initial character generation is not altogether is not impossible, though.  If I recall correctly one of the early print editions of FUDGE contained a variant for chargen during play.  No one has a Strength score until you encounter a door that needs opening, then everyone rolls 3d6 and writes down a number.  Whoever is brave enough to pick up the strange book and use the arcane formulas therein suddenly becomes a magic-user.  The player who puts on the chainmail and grabs the sword is obviously now running a fighter.  That sort of thing.  Everybody would start out as undifferentiated, undefined peasants, in the vein the DCC 0-level rules or the old module N4 Treasure Hunt but even less defined.

(How do you say "-C"?  Is that "Negative C"?  "Minus C"? "Dash C"?)

Wizardly Wednesday #4

Gandalf the Grey as depicted in The Hobbit (Rankin/Bass, 1977)

Monday, October 17, 2011

a quick FTL thought

If I need to get some object or objects from here to Peoria, I have several options available: foot, bicycle, automobile, train, a plane, a helicopter or maybe a horse or even maybe a team of oxen. If the object is just a brief written message I could use a carrier pigeon as well. Obviously, some of these methods are more practical than others and even the practical ones have different advantages and disadvantages. Sending a hundred tons of grain to Peoria via locomotive is probably a lot smarter than putting it on a plane, for example. But if the grain actually needs to end up in one of the small towns just outside of Peoria, the tracks might not go that way, so trucking it might be the next best way to go. Or a combo of trucking and trains. But then if I want to send a package to Paris (not Paris, Illinois, which has a decent pizza place as I recall but lacks many other emenities of the one in France) a whole bunch of those options fall away, but in exchange we can use a sailboat, a self-powered ships or a submarine. Most sci-fi RPGs I've seen posit a single kind of FTL drive that functions as the setting's equivalent of the engines on an ocean-going ship (or in the case of stargate-type systems, FTL-as-train). It might be more interesting to develop several different drives in your sci-fi campaign, each with different advantages and disadvantages. Maybe most ships use the standard Muon Induction Field type drive, but along the hyperspace faultlines N-brane Slipdrives are more efficient for short hops. Meanwhile the Doragian Warpgates allow near-instaneous travel, but they primarily serve the economic interests of the Doragian Prosperity Coalition and non-Doragians have to pay huge fees to use them. Still if Boba Fett is holding a "WANTED: Disintegrated or Alive" poster with your face on it, maybe it's time to pay through the nose.

reminder: magic torches for sale

It's not too late to put in an offer to buy one of two Everburning Torches of Dundagel. Details here.

an amazing story, even if you're not a wrestling fan

Sunday, October 16, 2011

let's help out Daniel

Daniel Dean asks "Are there any blogs or resources you're aware of that swing on the whole more towards jet-age-to-cyberpunk than they do sword and shield with optional sorcery?"

Personally, my blogroll covers mostly D&D fantasy with a few excellent post-apocalyptic and space operatic outfits.  Can anybody else recommend some neat places for Dean to check out?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Exordium and Terminus

Dang, I love this song.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Caves of Myrddin, online session #7

Today's party consisted of two fighters, Taurus the Psychotic Clown and Edgard du Lang, and two magic-users, Abbador the Mutator and Philip the Black.  Thanks to Taurus's carousing, he lets slip some information regarding the adventure, mostly in the form of improvised (drunken) songs about his own feats accompanied by some dubious accordion playing.   Since accordions haven't been invented yet some folks start referring to this strange wailing instrument as his Box of Devils.  Anyhoo, here's what you think happened based upon the slurred verses of a drunken Juggalo:
  • The party entered the dungeons via the East Tower, the former gatehouse of Castle Dundagel.
  • They encountered ravens that mocked there inability to open the door to the dungeon, but they got past this obstacle and several others thanks to Abbador's Cross-Dimensional Crowbar.
  • The party spent most of the expedition in the first level of the dungeon, looking for some goblin-treasure hinted at by Abbador.
  • No goblins were encountered.  Instead they befriended Herbie the Rust Monster and slew Skippy and Bobo (a pair of giant rats) and killed some Purple Raiders.
  • They stole the Scepter of the White Queen and the mustache right off the face of a Purple Raider.
  • No one knows what the mysterious lever in the kitchen does.
I thought it was a pretty dang good run.

check this out

from Subterranean Design

I wanted to share this picture of a circular wall built in a pond because a similar structure figures prominently in the Paul Jaquays classic module Realm of the Slime God, a.k.a. Night of the Walking Wet.  This adventure originally appeared in two parts in Dungeoneer #6 and #7 and was reprinted in the Dungeoneer Compendium.  In my opinion the Compendium is one of the best products released for OD&D, ranking right up there with the Arduin Grimoire and Judges Guilds' Ready Ref Sheets.

Anyway, it's neat to see a real version of the weird reservoir-built-in-a-lake structure from that adventure.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

winners totally do this

Wizard's Mix

Called Pipeweed of Metamnemonic Inspiration or Smokeables of Arcanocogitation in certain sources, the Wizard's Mix combines a particular variety of the standard halfling smoking herb with other potent ingredients, perhaps henbane or mandrake or saints know what else.  When available for sale a pouch of Wizard's Mix will be good for d6 smokes and cost d6 x 100gp.

To employ the Wizard's Mix a pipe and source of fire is required and d6 turns must be spent smoking in quiet contemplation.  Others present may engage in light conversation or pleasant singing, but arguments or other loud noises have a 50% chance of ruining the beneficial effects of smoking the pipeweed.

Upon finishing the smoke, the user may roll 1d6 to attempt to refill a currently empty arcane spell slot.  If the roll is equal to or higher than the spell level of the empty slot, the spellcaster has received a magical insight whereby a randomly generated spell of the appropriate level appears in the caster's memory.  If slots of different levels are empty the die roll is used to decide which spell level is filled (e.g. a roll of 3 will fill a third level slot if available, otherwise it will fill a second level slot before it fills a first level slot).  The spell added to the magic-user's memory does not come from the list of spells known in their spellbook, but rather is generated from the total list in the rulebook appropriate for the class (or the DM's house list if such a list is kept), allowing the user access to spells they couldn't otherwise cast.

All attempts to transcribe spells learned under the effect of Wizard's Mix result in pages and pages of total gibberish.  In the reverie to put down these new insights the user runs a 50% chance of ruining d6 spells already in their spellbook; while high they don't realize they are scribbling over previous spells.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

everybody else sucks too

So I guess while I've been hitting the books there's been another "1st level MU's suck" flare-up.  I find it very hard not to blame these attitudes on some combination of poor DMing and poor play.  (I.e. Either the player isn't playing as smart as they need to and/or the DM is too harsh.) But on the other hand, I currently use a specific ruleset that is pretty unfriendly to the other classes. To whit:
  • Elves need 4000xp to reach 2nd level.  Sure, you rule the school at 1st level, but you still reign over first level when half the party is rocking out at third.
  • Clerics don't get a spell at 1st level.  I don't even like clerics and I think that's harsh.
  • Thieves only get d4 hit points.  Poor bastards.
  • Fighters get only d8 for hit dice, no d10s like in AD&D and no d12 barbarians running around either.
  • No weapon specialization.
  • Two-handed weapons make you lose initiative, so most fighters only do d8 damage at best.
Also, with 3d6 in row, that d8 fighter may have a Con penalty.  And everybody always rolls hit points in my game, no max at first level, no wiggle room for a low roll.  A one hit point fighter is a distinct possibility.  Then add in that I don't use platemail in fake England circa 1140 AD and the ACs for clerics/fighter/etc are pretty poor as well.  But that's a campaign house rule and doesn't necessarily enter in here.

So DMs, before you agree that 1st level magic-users suck, ask yourself whether the 1st level versions of the other classes in your campaign suck hard enough.  How easy do you really want first level to be?  (That's not a rhetorical question.)

Been busy with school...

...but here, have a wizard.

Nicol Williamson as Merlin, from Excalibur (1981)

Friday, October 07, 2011

another Caves of Myrddin update

Durgar Ironfoot, Pavel the Great, Father Nicholas and Abbador the Mutator all made it back alive from the Dungeons of Dundagel this morning.  Durgar is wearing some shiny new dwarf-mail retrieved from the dungeons.  And he has trouble speaking clearly because he took a sip from a potion bottle that turned out to be a flask of acid.  Hopefully his tongue will heal by his next adventure.  Also, thanks to a charm person spell one of the two magic-users in the party has a new pet kobold named Torgo.  I can't remember which MU threw that spell though.

Rather than the stock dogfaced reptile guys, kobolds in the my current setting harken back a bit to the OD&D description of them, which suggests a relationship with dwarves.  Wessex kobolds are the backwards degenerate hill billy cousins of civilized dwarves.  They look like sickly dwarves with bad skin and filthy beards and their kobold language is actually dwarvish dumbed down.  If a dwarf limits his grammar to simple constructions and they both speak slowly, a dwarf and a kobold can communicate in their native tongues.  Not that they would necessarily have much to say to each other.

Torgo reveals that the local tribe of kobolds live on level 2 of Dundagel.  They would prefer to live on level 1, but two things prevent them from doing so: the whole tribe is enslaved by the dark lord Trevor, who force marched them to level 2 when he took over the upper levels of the dungeon, and those damn goblins now occupy all the good spots on level 1.  Torgo also lets slip that to get Durgar's new magic armor they had to burn down the ghost that haunted it.

One other thing: When not on duty Torgo wears a little pink evening gown with frills and lace.  You're not sure if kobold women have beards or if Torgo is a transvestite.  Maybe this secret will be revealed the next time someone fails a carousing roll.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

For sale: Everburning Torches of Dundagel

Last night the party acquired four Everburning Torches of Dundagel from the vampire lair.  They are keeping two and offering the other two for sale to other PCs visiting the Caves of Myrddin area.  Here are the known properties of the Everburning Torches:

  • Under normal dungeon circumstances they burn continuously with the normal light, heat and flammability of ordinary torches.
  • When placed in water the flame goes out, but it automatically relights when withdrawn.
  • The flame only burns in proper dungeons.  E.g. The Torches do not work in the non-haunted basement crypt of the abbey.  Actual dungeons have some metaphysical property that differentiates them from other holes in the ground.  Upon reaching the exit of the dungeon the flame goes out, automatically relighting when you next visit a dungeon.
The two Everburning Torches retained by the party have been modified by the assistance of the blacksmith in Camelton, a nearby village.  The flaming end of the torch has been encaged by a heavy iron network.  This allows the torches to function as described above and also as flame tongue maces.  At least until this makeshift modification is broken from heavy use.  Whoever buys one of the Torches can spend 150gp to have theirs so-modified.

Here's how the sale works: Offers will be taken here, on G+ and via gmail (jrients@yaddayadda) from now until the next tabletop session, Wednesday October 19th.  Acceptable items offered include gold, gems, jewels, magic items, MU spells or anything else that might be of value to inhabitants of the Wessex setting.  At the session on the 19th I will present all offers to the owners and I will get back to whoever they choose to sell to.

Caves of Myrddin update

So last night the gang at the Armored Gopher took another shot at the dungeons below the ruins of Castle Dundagel and then later followed up with an excursion into the infamous Wet Cave.  Your primary informant for the Dundagel adventue is Gammo the Fighter, who caroused after they returned.  That night Gammo somehow wound up at the top of the belltower of the abbey church, drunk and stark naked.  While explaining to the crowd below that he was the World's Greatest Vampire Slayer he slipped and fell to what clearly should have been his death.  On the way down he cried "St. Emmet save meeeeeeeeeee!" and whaddyano, he miraculously survived the 30' fall without a scratch on his body.  So now he owes St. Emmet a solid.

But before this incident, Gammo managed to blab quite a bit about trip below Castle Dundagel:
  • The party travelled down the spiral staircase from the south tower, which they had previously learned runs way deeper than they really want to go.  They instead took one of the side doors off the staircase, about 100 feet below the surface.
  • They located some sort of big strange machine in a large cavern, but it appeared to be rusted and useless.
  • A nearby chamber contained a mysterious magical square engraven on the floor.
  • Except for a few rats that scattered, the only fight for the expedition was against a pair of vampires.
  • The lair of the vampires was at the bottom of a pit trap.  Jessup the Bold fell in the trap and died, then one of the vampires dragged his body away to feast on his still-warm blood.  The party then went down into the pit they know contains vampires (I love these guys) and somehow overcame these fangy foes.
  • Treasure scored by the party from the vampires included some gems, a magic sword now in the possession of Fynn the Thief, and some Everburning Torches (more on those last items in my next post).
A few days later, the party adds a couple of NPCs to its ranks, a halfling named Frito Lay (there was a chip bag handy when the character was being rolled up) and a Dutch cook/brewer called Jan.  They then visit the Wet Cave.  By questioning Frito and Jan you can discover the following facts:
  • Some sort of creepy aqua-undead lurk in the Wet Caves, like a corpsy version of the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
  • Some passages slope up and don't completely flood when the tide comes in.
  • A magical green fog blocking one passage is poisonous.
  • Lankii the Elf found some sort of wizard ring, but it had a magical trap on it that blinded most of the party for a couple hours, causing the expedition to be cut short as the one PC who saved had to guide the rest of the party out with a rope.  Too bad I didn't roll any wandering monsters at that point.
Finally, near the end of the play session Fynn and Nick's MU (whose name escapes me at the moment) decide they want to try one last quick run.  I don't think I've mentioned it on the Gameblog before, but with this spacious new dungeon I'm giving out bonus XP if you are the first PCs to visit a new section of the dungeon.  These 2nd or 3rd level PCs know where the entrance to level 8 is on the map.  They also know that they will score 800xp if they can just enter the level for a moment then run like hell. 

The rest of the party wants nothing to do with this plan, so it's just Nick's MU, Fynn and Fynn's cook as the lantern bearer.  They make it a couple hundred feet down that same big spiral staircase when they hear something growly and big further down the stairs.  Jan the Cook hands the lantern to his boss and heads back up the stairs.  Fynn lays down some oil and lights it to cover their retreat, then follows Jan.  Nick decides he wants to see whether or not the monster presumably heading up the stairs is stopped by the burning oil obstacle.

There's a roar and a blast of fire shoots up the staircase, nearly engulfing Fynn.  Nick's MU never makes it out.  The dragon has claimed its first PC.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

A with X, B with Y

Sometimes I really dig on an RPG setting but don't want necessarily want to run it using the attached system.  Here are a couple of examples. 

I love the original BattleTech material but the attached MechWarrior RPG doesn't do much for me.  Sometimes I think about adopting a bunch of material into Mekton Zeta, using the Japanese B-tech artwork and running a game about the brave large-eyed heroes of House Kurita fighting evil across the Inner Sphere.  One of the background themes of the campaign would be the way American and Japanese culture appropriate each other.  The foreground of the campaign would be about giant robots exploding.

Andy Hopp's Low Life is one of the few gamebooks out there perfectly blends good writing and great art.  Also, it is one of the stupidest settings you'll ever find.  It's a Savage Worlds book.  There's nothing wrong with Savage Worlds that punching Smilin' Jack in the face won't fix.  In fact I once used some old Gangbusters material to run a pretty dang fun Savage Worlds-powered gangster game.  But I don't want to teach it to my current crop of players and I'd just as soon use Mutant Future for most post-apocalyptic shenanigans.

S. John Ross's nifty Uresia: Grave of Heaven was originally written for Big Eyes, Small Mouth and later adapted to BESM d20.  However, if I were to ever run D&D 3.x again I would seriously consider Uresia for my setting.  Here's how it would work: The campaign would start in Rinden, the land of fairy tale style knights and princesses and dragons.  As far as the players are concerned, it would be "the Rinden campaign" at first and all they know about the world beyond the borders is those places are weird.  Initial PC choice would be limited to a handful of classes and races, fewer even than in the 3.x Players Handbooks.  Then we'd slowly introduce new classes and races that align with the other regions of Uresia, until you can send the party out into the world with some rough idea of what some of the other places on the big map are like.

Incidentally, S. John has been working on a systemless 3rd edition to Uresia for a while now.  In the meantime there are some goodies for the setting over at his Cumberland Games & Diversions website.

I've long been surprised that I've never encountered anyone who ever ran ICE's Space Master in the 3rd Imperium setting of Traveller.  Seems like a perfect combo to get a rich setting and lotsa wicked critical hits.  Maybe I'm the only person who wants both in a game.

Anyone else have any settings they'd prefer to yank from one game and import into another?

Wizardly Wednesday #2

Some call me... Tim.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The plague: fun for the whole family

Today we screened this short film in one of my classes as part of a look at Defoe's A Journal of the Plague Year. I thought maybe fans of later-period historical fantasy might dig on it. Certainly as I was reading Defoe's book I thought it would make great fodder for Warhammer Fantasy or Lamentations of the Flame Princess type games. The lumpy looking dude standing guard outside the infected tavern is a government-appointed goon charged with making sure no one in a quarantined building escapes.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

a Star Wars groove

Saturday, October 01, 2011

an interesting item from EPT

I was rereading Empire of the Petal Throne this afternoon when found this interesting entry in the magic-user spell section:

16. Research: A player may elect to perform the research necessary to develop a new spell. The inclusion of this in the game is at the referee's option, and all of its features must be clearly specified. The referee will determine the length of time needed to develop the spell and perhaps a percentile dice roll required to achieve success; these factors will depend upon the power and difficulty of the proposed spell. No such research can be done, however, unless this bonus spell is chosen from the Group III list.

What we have here is the EPT spell research rules embedded directly in the spell list.  All the bonus spells (as opposed to magics all MUs of a certain level or higher can cast) are rated group I to group III, so I tend to think of each group as roughly equivalent to two D&D spell levels.  Only it's more complicated than that.  Because acquiring bonus spells involves throwing dice, you can acquire a group III spell as early as your PC's 4th level or possibly never (though your chance at 11th level is 80%).  Also, the group III spells don't exactly map to 5th and 6th level spells.  Wish, for example, is on the group III list.

Anyway, I'm really digging on this implementation of spell research.  It largely preserves the Vancian concept of spells as post-apocalyptic remnants.  Most magic-users work within the framework of the small list of known magics, presumably left over remnants from the Age When Everything Was Super Awesome.

But Research leaves a back door open for new magic-as-progressive-science type spells to sneak back into the setting. Note that under this system spell research only enters play via magic-users who are both particularly successful and particularly obsessed, since to use this option you have to reach a decent level and be crazy enough to pass on Wish or The Demon spell or The Silver Halo of Soul Stealing or any of a number of other totally kickass spells.

It would be a snap to incorporate a similar mechanic into D&D.  And if you wanted to keep spell research away from the grubby paws of the elves, all you have to do is make Research a sixth level spell.

One last observation: researching new spells under EPT doesn't cost any money.